Pasta Primavera – An EASY pasta recipe that’s chock full of brightly colored and lightly sautéed vegetables, penne pasta, and tossed in a light lemon cream sauce with Parmesan cheese! Great for busy weeknights when you need to get a family-approved dinner on the table quickly and you can sneak in lots of veggies!
Easy Pasta Primavera Recipe
Did you know that primavera means “spring” in both Italian and Spanish?
On this first day of spring, I present you with this easy pasta primavera recipe that the whole family will love.
It’s chock full of crisp-tender vegetables, al dente cooked penne pasta, and it’s all tossed in a light lemon cream sauce with fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese.
While you may think that easy pasta recipe originated in Italy, it actually did not. It originated at Le Cirque in New York City in the 1970s. I have memories of my mom making this dish way back when!
It’s a simple yet satisfying dish that’s full of so many textures, flavors, and a great way to work in lots of veggies! You can mix-and-match the vegetables based on what you have on hand.
I appreciate that pasta primavera is not at all fussy and is ready in 30 minutes, making it a great option for busy weeknights.
Ingredients in Pasta Primavera
To make a show-stopping pasta primavera recipe, the most important thing to remember is that you’ll need lots of vegetables!
All the ingredients are easy to find at your local supermarket and are common fridge and pantry items including the following:
- Penne pasta
- Olive oil
- Unsalted butter
- Red onion
- Bell Peppers
- Broccoli florets
- Yellow squash
- Cherry tomatoes
- Heavy whipping cream
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Lemon zest
- Lemon juice
- Italian seasoning
- Black pepper
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh basil
Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.
How to Make Pasta Primavera with Lemon Cream Sauce
The longest part of this recipe will be the vegetable chopping. This is where you can call upon your spouse, teenager, or anyone you can hand a knife and a cutting board to help you out!
Follow my straightforward directions as follows:
Step 1: Cook pasta according to package instructions in a large pot. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Keep Moving Along – Keep Chopping
In this pasta primavera recipe, while the water is coming up to a boil, and then while the pasta cooks, make sure you are moving along and chopping the vegetables you’re going to use.
While the onions and carrots are sautéing, keep moving along with your chopping and chop the bell peppers and broccoli.
Also remember you’re not being graded on the exact precision in which you cut the veggies. Just get them chopped, don’t worry and obsess too much!
This is how to save on the overall total recipe time needed to make pasta primavera.
Step 2: To a large skillet add the olive oil, butter, onions, carrots, and saute for 4 minutes over medium-high heat.
Step 3: Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.
Step 4: Add the asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, and saute for 3 minutes.
Step 5: Add the squash, peas, and saute for 3 minutes.
Step 6: Combine the pasta with all the cooked vegetables and toss in the tomatoes.
Step 7: Make the lemon cream sauce by whisking together the heavy cream, Parmesan, lemon zest and juice, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a bowl, and pour this over the pasta and vegetables.
Step 8: Sprinkle with fresh parsley, basil, more Parm, toss to combine, taste for seasoning balance, and serve your pasta dish!
What Kind of Vegetables Should I Use for Pasta Primavera?
Since this is primavera pasta, spring vegetables are a must! Asparagus and peas are two that immediately come to mind.
However, there is so much opportunity to mix-and-match and vary what vegetables you include. For example:
- You can use any color bell pepper you want such as red, orange, yellow, or green
- White or yellow onions are more classic but I had a red onion on hand
- Swap a green zucchini for the yellow summer squash
- Green beans are a great addition in case you don’t have asparagus
- Mushroom lovers feel free to work in some sliced white button or baby portobello mushrooms
- Something in your crisper drawer you need to use up like the Costco sized bag of spinach or kale? Toss in a few big handfuls into your pan at the end and it’ll wilt right down
What Pasta is Best for Easy Pasta Primavera?
The classic pasta primavera recipe tends to favor penne pasta.
However, you can use the following small shaped pasta:
- Small shells
- Long strand pasta such as angel hair, spaghetti, or linguine is also fine
Al Dente + Salted Water
Remember that all pasta cooks at a slightly different rate. Follow the package directions and cook it to just al dente, or “with bite”. You don’t want overcooked, mushy pasta!
Also salt that pasta cooking water generously! At least 1 tablespoon is my recommendation. This helps the pasta to taste great.
Serving Suggestions for Pasta Primavera Recipe
This is a very filling dish in all honesty. Between the pasta and then all those veggies, you really will not need anything else!
If you want to perhaps serve it with garlic bread or a batch of my Soft and Fluffy Honey Dinner Rolls, that’s about all I can really envision you may want. You won’t need a salad after all the veggies!
Storing Leftover Pasta Primavera
I am a big believer in cooking once, and cooking enough so that you have leftovers for either work or school lunches the next day, or a quick zap-it-in-the-microwave dinner option that is no work at all.
If you find yourself with extra pasta primavera, it’ll keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Note that the pasta will continue to absorb any of the lemon cream sauce so the leftovers won’t look or taste as “saucy”. And vegetable texture changes and becomes softer, especially if you freeze it, but not a big deal.
Pasta Primavera FAQs
Yes you sure can. Previously cooked chicken such as leftover Lemon Grilled Chicken, Poached Chicken, or shredded rotisserie chicken are great options. Add them at the end when you add the sauce and stir well to combine.
If you want to add shrimp, I suggest adding either previously cooked and frozen shrimp that you simply thaw. Or you can use medium-count fresh shrimp that you quickly saute separately in a bit of olive oil. The great thing is that shrimp that size cook in 3 minutes tops!
No worries here. Just skip or omit it. There are so many other veggies that no one will miss whatever you’re omitting.
For me personally, this is a no – with the exception of the frozen peas. I do not care for the texture of frozen broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, or the like in a recipe like this that’s actually a “stir fry” because I adore the crisp-tender texture you can really only achieve by starting with fresh vegetables.
However, if you don’t care or are a person who likes your veggies more well-cooked, and less crisp, then I think frozen vegetables may be fine for you.
Tips for the Best Pasta Primavera
Heavy Cream – Make sure to use heavy whipping cream and not half-and-half (and definitely not milk) for the best mouthfeel and consistency to the cream sauce.
No Cream Sauce? – If you’re a person who doesn’t need a creamy sauce, then it’s fine to omit the heavy cream and instead just use 1/2 cup pasta water instead. Chicken broth or vegetable broth also work.
Parmesan Cheese – Use freshly and finely grated Parmesan cheese for best results. Don’t use cheese in a green can. If you have Pecorino-Romano on hand rather than Parm, it’s an okay substitution.
Lemon Zest – Any time you’re zesting a lemon or an orange, make sure to only take off the outermost layer and don’t go down to the white, or pith. It’s bitter and will change the flavor of your sauce.
Zest, Then Juice – Common sense here but worth pointing out to always zest first, then juice, in a recipe that calls for both. Like in my fan-favorite Lemon Olive Oil Cake.
Taste It – Sounds obvious, but any time you’re making a big batch pasta recipe like this one, with nearly a pound of pasta, and many pounds worth of vegetables, you need to make sure to TASTE the food and tweak the salt (and pepper) balance, as necessary and to taste.
Vegetables are begging to be seasoned properly to really shine so that even those people who say they “don’t like vegetables” will be pleasantly surprised and not bored.
If you want to add a bit of intrigue and oomph, without adding over spiciness, add a teaspoon or two of red chili flakes.
- 12 ounces penne pasta (or another favorite pasta)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium red onion, diced small or sliced into thin strips
- 1/2 cups carrots, diced into matchstick-sized pieces
- 3 to 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and diced into 1-inch long pieces
- 1 medium bell pepper, seeded and diced into long thin strips (I used red but orange, yellow, or green are fine)
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 1 yellow squash (or zucchini), sliced into thin slices or half round slices
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing
- 1 medium lemon, zested
- Juice from 1 medium lemon
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Italian seasoning, or to taste
- 1 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely minced
- To a large pot, boil and salt the water for the pasta, cook according to package directions, drain, rinse; set aside in a very large bowl. Meanwhile, while waiting for the pasta to cook, keep moving along on the rest of the recipe.
- To a large skillet, add the olive oil, butter, onions, carrots, and saute over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes; stir frequently.
- Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute; stir constantly.
- Add the asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, and saute for 3 to 4 minutes; stir frequently.
- Add the squash, peas, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes; stir frequently. Tip – Make sure you like the texture of all the vegetables at this point. If you like your vegetables to be softer and less crisp-tender, cook them a bit longer at this stage. They will continue to soften even off the heat due to carryover cooking.
- Add all the cooked vegetables to the bowl with the pasta, add the tomatoes, and stir to combine; set aside momentarily.
- To a medium bowl, add the heavy cream, Parmesan, lemon zest, lemon juice, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and whisk to combine.
- Evenly drizzle the sauce over the pasta and vegetables, and stir very well to combine.
- Taste the recipe and check for seasoning balance. Tips – You easily have 3 to 4 pounds of food and so don’t be shy with salting it (and peppering) so that you can help the vegetables shine. Without enough salt and pepper, the dish will taste boring and flat. Add enough salt and pepper so that it doesn’t! If you want to add 1 teaspoon of chili flakes, this is a great way to add some oomph without over spiciness.
- Add the parsley, basil, stir to combine, garnish with extra Parm, and serve immediately. Extra pasta primavera will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months. Reheat gently in the microwave. Leftovers won’t seem as “saucy” and the texture of the vegetables will change a bit.
Amount Per Serving:
Calories: 413Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 948mgCarbohydrates: 52gFiber: 9gSugar: 18gProtein: 13g
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